By Celina Fazio, The Rights Factory Editorial and Film/TV Assistant
Daniel Barnett is a lover of stories—especially ones where things go bump in the night. His work has appeared in Crowded Magazine, and he will appear as the featured author in the forthcoming The Cellar Door, Issue #1: Woodland Terrors with his novelette "Pigfoot."
He has four novels published and is in the midst of writing his series Nightmareland Chronicles, which has been garnering attention from horror fans all over. The series is an ongoing adventure horror epic following one man’s quest to reach his daughter in a world where the sun never rises.
Eternal night, nightmares incarnate, and devastating character arcs—Daniel is the mastermind behind this truly terrifying story. I had the honour to connect with the nightmare-weaver himself to learn more.
What inspired this series? Was it an epiphany moment, or did it come about more organically?
You get little pieces at a time. I don’t think there’s any one particular “aha” moment, necessarily. I had the umbrella idea for a while, which is the concept of eternal night. I didn’t want it to be a cold, linear story, where the sun goes out and it just gets colder and colder until everyone dies. I knew that I wanted there to be something a little more dynamic.
Writing a story set entirely at night is something of a challenge because we use—as authors—daytime and nighttime cycles to position when one thing happens relative to another. There’s a lot more work to do in terms of orientation when writing.
In terms of the feel of the story, I’d say my two biggest sources of inspiration were The Dark Tower series—as far as archetypes are concerned, John belongs to the same family of archetypes as Roland—and, more significantly, The Last of Us. I was genuinely moved by the story in The Last of Us. It’s a personal, intimate, guided tour of a post-apocalyptic world, and I wanted to tell a story like that. We’re all just chasing a feeling, as authors. We’re all just trying to write something that will make us feel the way something else made us feel already, and hopefully share that feeling with others.
You can see the influence of those works on your own. But at the same time, I think you’ve created something completely unique and unexpected. It’s almost hard to believe that Nightmareland Chronicles is independently published, considering how much attention it’s been getting. Did you seek larger publishing houses first, or did you go straight to the indie route?
I didn’t look anywhere for Nightmareland Chronicles. I like the freedom that is afforded by self-publishing and I’m a believer that if you write something that connects with people, then publishers might eventually come to you.
Also, structurally, the Nightmareland Chronicles as a series is not traditional. It’s not something that I, as an unknown commodity, could have taken to a publishing house and said, “let me publish it this way,” in a serialized novel format. Some [of the books] are shorter and some are longer, so it straddles the line between serialized and series. It’s fun writing in this form.
How did you find your audience as a self-published writer—or alternatively, how did they find you? What role did social media play?
I certainly feel that I have found traction with this series that I had not found with my prior four standalones thus far. Those are books that I’m proud of, but this series has gotten more eyes. There’s something to be said for writing a series—it keeps people coming back. I think I found my wheelhouse with this one, too.
I found my audience one person at a time. With this series, the covers carry a lot of weight. Daniele Serra does amazing work […] he’s an incredible talent and a very nice guy, so I’m lucky to work with him.
Then there’s BookTube. Communities on BookTube really kind of adopted me. I made a lot of friends on BookTube. One person talks about it [the series] and then someone watches it, and then they go read it, and the circle grows. It’s been a special experience.
You have a loyal community of Nightmareland fans. What do you think it is about the series that draws so many people in?
Marcos. There’s a lot of love for Marcos. I get a lot of warning from readers, especially those who have ready LILY who say, “if you [expletive] with Marcos…” So, there’s that [laughs].
But that’s a bit of an oversimplification, as it’s different for different people. For some people, Mariah was their favourite, and for others, John was their favourite. It really does come down to the characters overall—and that makes sense because, for me, that’s what it comes down to, as well.
I want to tell a story that hits in a lot of different and potentially unexpected ways. I want there to be excitement and adventure and a sense of discovery, both outward and inward for the characters. I want there to be unexpected moments of beauty and kindness and hopefulness, even when all that stuff might seem so hard to come by.
But I think that’s one of the special things about horror: the ability to shine a light on some of the better sides of us, and have those aspects stand out all the brighter in the contrast. A candle is always going to be brighter in a dark room.
"...that’s one of the special things about horror: the ability to shine a light on some of the better sides of us, and have those aspects stand out all the brighter in the contrast."
I’m not surprised to hear so many people say Marcos as he’s such an endearing character. And he’s of an age where he has so much room for personal growth and discovery. Hopefully, readers will get to experience more of that in the future. Can you share some of your insights about the current state of the horror world? Are there any trends or changes you’ve noticed in the past few years?
On the film and TV side of things, we are absolutely in a horror boom right now. It is all over the place and striking from so many different angles—whether it’s the campy stuff or the traditional slasher, or what some people have labelled “elevated horror.” I don’t really like that term because there are just different kinds of horror, and I don’t want to imply that any kind of horror is “low-brow,” so to speak. It’s just different rooms in a big house—and we’re seeing that big house get a whole lot more attention in a more mainstream way than it has in the past.
It's always my thought that nobody dislikes horror, they just haven’t found the right kind of horror. That’s my opinion.
As far as books are concerned, in the indie sphere, I certainly think that shorter books are ruling. Readers are snapping up those novella-length stories that are just quick, punchy, colourful—which is part of the reason that I felt like the serialized format was the right idea. There are a lot of things going on in the indie horror world right now. A lot of new voices—and new kinds of voices—are getting more attention, rightfully, than they might have gotten in previous years. It’s a pretty special time to be a part of it.
I agree. Seeing horror take the spotlight and become not just mainstream but also accessible for a lot of people is great. For a long time, horror was considered to be only about making people scared or disgusted, but some of its newer forms—like elevated horror—are giving people an outlet to explore different topics in new ways. In some ways, and with what’s been going on over the past few years, I would argue that it’s almost more important now than ever.
For me, I think of horror as a genre of empathy. That’s what horror is—or at least it can be. When you have storytellers telling stories from that place with compassion for their characters and understanding of what it’s like to be different, or strange, or any other in the world. There’s a lot to share through the genre.
You’ve stated that two creators who have influenced you are Clive Barker and Stephen King (among others), both of whom really occupy the space between page and screen. Is that something that you think has factored into your own writing?
Both Clive Barker and Stephen King are huge inspirations to me. I think that Clive Barker has this ability to make the most outwardly ugly and horrifying things so beautiful. And his prose—everybody knows Clive Barker’s prose—but if anyone else tries to write like Clive Barker, it’s like…purple mush. You can’t do it unless you’re him because he’s constantly toeing this line with such control and grace. The breadth of his imagination has been hugely inspirational.
Stephen King. His perceptiveness of human nature and the way humans think—and the conversational way with which he tells his stories—has always resonated with me. There’s something to be said for making something easy to read but not lacking depth, and Stephen King does that like no one else. I greatly admire both of their works. They’re legends.
Stephen King talks about his generation being the last to remember what life was like before visual media became a big thing and how that influenced his writing. He talks about cinematic qualities in books, and how it’s something that came from people who have a great love of both mediums. It’s certainly been that way for me; I just love a good story, and I consume a lot of them in different forms.
You’re six books in so far and show no signs of slowing. Do you have an idea of what direction the story is headed in, or are you still on the journey of discovering that yourself?
I do have ideas…I have landmarks, I guess you could say, along the way. I think the second half of the series is going to dig deeper into nightmares: what it means to be a nightmare, different angles that have yet to be explored there. Some new and unique settings. I do have a pretty good idea of where these characters are ultimately going to end up. It’s about still giving them the room to let them grow along the way and let them change course in some ways when needed.
But any story will grow as you approach it. Things fill out, become clearer, and come into focus—and sometimes when they do, it’s not what you expected.
Any hints about what fans can look forward to in the forthcoming books?
Let’s see. You can expect the exploration of a more traditional monster because I think Nightmareland Chronicles has room for everything […] anything that anybody might be scared of can become real. So, I think it’s time for a traditional monster, one that people will be familiar with, but with this world’s unique wrinkle on it.
In terms of setting, you might see a town that went mysteriously untouched by the lullaby, left to fend for itself in the night. We’ll have some prominent Great Lakes setting at some point, I think—in fact, I kind of know it. And some new characters; let’s put it that way. The cast is going to grow a little bit.
I’m excited to share it when the time comes. I’m having a lot of fun telling this story.
The sixth book of The Nightmareland Chronicles, LILY, was published January 2022 and marks what just might be the best book in the series yet. LILY is enthralling and devastating and serves a poignant reminder that even in a world of darkness, we can always fight for the light.